Good Old North New South Wales

Just a quick update. I’m in Ballina NSW, just south of Byron Bay. The McDonald’s here had wifi, so I stopped to check my email.

I spent last night in Coffs Harbor. The drive was very uneventful. This part of Australia is much more green and lush than what I saw in Victoria.

From here I’ll be stopping at Springbook National Park, which is the most accessible section of the Gondwana Raninforests World Heritage Site. From there I’ll go to Brisbane for the night. It is only 11am so I have plenty of time. I figure I’m about 2 hours from Brisbane, and Sprinkbrook shouldn’t be more than 30-45 min from the highway.

It turns out that the schools here have the next two weeks off, so there was a ton of traffic coming out of Sydney on Saturday. I’m hoping it gets better as I get north of Brisbane.

I also got stopped in a road side drunk driving check point. The cops here seems much….nicer, than American cops. They aren’t out to make you respect their authority. All the signs on the side of the road are about slowing down, taking rest breaks, and how there are speed cameras everywhere. It is like taking a road trip in Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is everywhere.

It is now rugby season, so most of the talk on the radio is all about “footy”.

I’ll see you next time from Queensland.

See Ya Sydney

The last few days have been an exercise in frustration. I’ve spent hours trying to upload video only have it end up in failure, I couldn’t get iMovies to export my video, and made a big screw up with Google. There are limits on how much time I can spend on photos and the website, however. So in a few hours, I’m off to Queensland.

I managed to get a really cheap car to rent from Sydney to Cairns, which leads me to believe that most rentals go the other way. I’ll have nine says to make the trip, which should be plenty of time. The trip will take me to Brisbane, and four world heritage sites: Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Fraser Island, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.

Sydney to Cairns seems to be the road trip people make in Australia. It is also no small endeavor. To give you an idea of the distance, it is like driving from Jacksonville, Florida to the north shore of Lake Superior in Ontario, or in Europe, like driving from the middle of Turkey to northern Ukraine.

I’m ready to leave Sydney. I have nothing against the city, I’ve just stayed here too long. I need to get moving. I should be in Brisbane in 2-3 days. I know I have some readers there, so if you want to get together for a beer or something, send me an email.

I’ll be doing periodic updates the next nine days when I can find Internet, but I wouldn’t expect too much. Given how poor the internet has been at this hostel, I’m not sure it will be any worse.

As you can see below, during the next week I’m showing photos I took from my previous trips, just to do something different. The image quality wont be quite as good because I didn’t have a very good camera, but it will let you see something a bit different than what I’ve been showing you.

I’ve pretty much given up on everything I’ve sent from Bali. It seems that no one has gotten a post card, or at least I haven’t been told of anyone getting a post card.

The YaYa Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants

As you may have noticed, this blog really isn’t a diary. I don’t like to narrative descriptions of every meal I ate and everything I did every day. Honestly, you’d be bored to tears.

Traveling like I do isn’t like being on vacation. When you are on vacation, you try to cram as much rest and relaxation in, in the time you got, even if it kills you.

I try to set out with one or two objectives for each day. Most days it might be going to see something, take photos of something, do something with the website, go from A to B, etc. I usually try not to schedule anything if I’m actually moving from place to place. I’ve discovered it is foolish if you are in a new city to try and go sightseeing for more than about 4-6 hours.

Since getting back from Tasmania this week, I’ve been focused on archiving my photos and sending them back to the US. That was a high priority because the longer I didn’t do it, the greater the risk of something happening. Once I got that done and out the door, there was only one thing left I needed to do in Sydney, and that was shoot the footage for my podcast.

I actually have footage for about 8 episodes ready to go, all from previous video I shot earlier in my trip. Before I go live, I wanted to do a particular first episode and I wanted to do it here in Sydney. So yesterday, I put my video camera in my small backpack, grabbed my tripod, and headed out.

I get to the harbor and start shooting some the establishing shots I want. I should also note that I didn’t really get to the harbor until about 3pm and it was overcast. By the time I got to where I wanted to shoot myself talking, the sun was very low, directly in the camera (when it wasn’t behind clouds), and dark. Oh, and because I left my SLR and camera bag back in my room I didn’t have my extra lens, microphone, or the remote control, which is needed when you are both the camera man and the star of the show.

In the end, it was so dark you couldn’t see my face and the sound was so poor without the mic that I said “this isn’t gonna happen”. I’d come back tomorrow, earlier in the day and do it right.

Doing video has been a learning experience for me. Like photography, I’ve never done it before. However, I at least have a solid year of shooting still photos and 10,000 photographs under my belt. I just wasn’t thinking in terms of lighting and sound.

I was pretty dejected. What to do, what to do? Answer: SHOPPING!!!

I have two pair of pants I carry with me. One I purchased before the trip and one I had been wearing for a few years before I left. That pair had been with me for six weeks up in the Rocky Mountains at geology field camp and the entire year of this trip. They are showing their age. The zipper on the inside pocket (which I use all the time) is broken. The saps on the leg cuffs are broken, small holes are starting to show and there is a dirt ground in so heavily, that no washing will ever make it clean.

It was time to put the pants out of their misery.

I got a new pair of very similar pants at the North Face store. I can say with pride that my waist has gotten smaller as they new pants are an L where as the old ones were an XL. I have no idea if I’ve lost weight or pants sizes since I started traveling, but I must be doing something right. Walking everywhere, everyday probably has something to do with that.

Backing Up Is Hard To Do

I spent the last few days doing nothing but burning DVDs. It was really boring and frustrating. I had a stack of 50 DVDs which I started with. About 20 of the 50 didn’t work properly. I purchased a smaller stack of 20 and about 6 of those didn’t work properly.

I learned a valuable lesson. I should have been backing up my photos the entire time or at least I should have done it while I was in Melbourne.

Nonetheless, it is done now. I sent about 50 DVDs, a 40gb iPod I had been carrying around and my 160gb HD back to the US via FedEx. Sending it cost about as much purchasing a HD (and I sent it in a small FedEx box). I also dropped 1.6 kg off my baggage weight (closed circuit to Pete: all the airlines outside the US measure baggage in kilograms, so that is how I think now)

Assuming everything arrives undamaged, my friend Amy should be able to just copy the files from the 160gb drive I sent to the 500gb I gave her before I left on my trip. That, plus the DVDs and iPod, and the 160gb drive should give me redundant copies of every photo I’ve shot so far. I’ll feel much better once I know it has made the trip safely and doesn’t end up like the packages in Castaway.

This has been bothering me because my hard drive was full and it was limiting what I could do in terms of taking more photos. I had let this go to the point where I had to take care of it and take care of it now.

I appreciate all the feedback I got from everyone. Having burned 50 DVDs, there is no way I’m going to do that again, so I think the answer will be in redundnat external hard drives. I looked into some online services, but honestly, even at $0.15 per gig per month, S3 can get expensive when you are talking about hundreds of gigs and uploading and downloading all that data.

I think the next photo thing I need to do is get a copy of Photoshop C3 (I have C2 still) and Lightroom. I have never used Lightroom, but I’ve been hearing so many good things about it I’d like to give it a try.

I was talking to Scott Kurtz last night about photography. He is just starting to get into it. It is sort of daunting to start to take photos seriously. You guys have been able to literally see my progress as I’ve been traveling the past year. There is a lot to learn and if you try to absorb it all at once, it can be overwhelming.

Just as a break, and to show you the difference in my photography, next week I’m going to showcase photos I took on my previous travels. I had a 2 megapixel Kodak camera back in the late 90s. Going back to look at them, I can see the huge difference in quality.

I’m off to Brisbane the day after tomorrow and then on to Cairns. I think I’m going to to to Papua New Guinea from there so I can renew my tourist visa, and because it is a logical point to fly to Port Moresby from. From there I’ll fly back to Cairns or Darwin and work my way to Perth.

I have developed a very bad habit of staying in place when I’m in large cities. I spent far longer in Honolulu, Taipei, Tokyo, Kagoshima, Hong Kong, Melbourne and now Sydeny than I originally intended. I need to get out of that habit. I fear how long I’ll end up in Singapore….

The Shrines and Temples of Japan: Part 3, Nikko

If you haven’t yet, first read part one and part two.

I had a reader ask me what she should do when she’s in Tokyo and I suggested a visit to Nikko. That reminded me that I never wrote the final party of my three part Shrines and Temples of Japan series. So, in the spirit of better late than never, I give you…..the Shrines and Temples of Nikko.


Unlike Kyoto or Nara, Nikko was not a capital of Japan. Nikko is located in the mountains in central Honshu surrounded by Japanese cedar forests. The first temple was established in 782 by the high priest Shodo as the forests around the area had always been sacred to the Shinto religion. The town of Nikko eventually grew around the shrines and temples.

The current temples date back to the seventeenth century and consist of a mix of Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines. In addition to worshipers, Nikko became a popular attraction during the Miji Dynasty in the 19th century.

Most non-Japanese are probably not aware that the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil saying comes from Nikko. The monkeys are found on a carving on a stable building at the Tosho-gu temple. I had no idea of this fact when I arrived in Nikko so I didn’t understand why so many stores in Nikko had t-shirts and statues of the three monkeys. I also didn’t understand why so many people were making goofy faces and getting their photos taken in front of the same building.

The Shrines

There are three primary sites, all adjoined to each other which compromise the Shrines and Temples of Nikko World Heritage Area. Tosho-gu, Rinno-ji, and Futarasan. Rinno-ji is Buddhist and the others are Shinto.

I am not going to go into detail regarding each site and building because, to be honest, they all sort of blurred together and I’m just not that much of an expert on Buddhism or Shintoism. I am aware of different schools of Buddhism and how the different temples are home to different schools, but if I tried to describe the difference I’d probably get it wrong and just end up plagiarizing Wikipedia.

What I can tell you are the very obvious differences between Nikko and Kyoto or Nara. The location of Nikko in the mountains and nestled in the cedar forest gives it a very different vibe than either city. Kyoto is a large city and no matter where you go, you are never far away from the city. Even in Nara, while not nearly as big, you always sort of have the feeling you are in a city park.

You are under no illusion that you are in a city at the Nikko shrines. Many of the buildings literally stand under or close to very large cedar trees. Even with large crowds, I still had a feeling that I was in the forest because you are totally surrounded by trees.

The other thing I noticed in Nikko was that the buildings were much more colorful and elaborate than what I had seen in Kyoto and Nara. In Nikko, the facades of buildings were often covered in gold leaf and you could see bright reds, blues, and yellows everywhere.

There was one path I was able to take which went up a hill and into the woods. I probably got sidetracked for over and hour hiking up there and I eventually came across a paved hillside and a system of pipes which sort of took away the magic of everything.

Getting There

It takes about two hours to get from Tokyo to Nikko. I took the Shinkansen to the Nikko line. There was only one train transfer and I think there may have been a slower train which went directly into Tokyo from Nikko, but I wasn’t aware of it. I also had a JR Rail pass, so I took the Shinkansen because I could.

Once you arrive in Nikko, it is possible to walk to the temple complex. It took me about 30 minutes to walk there and it was almost all uphill. There is a bus which can take you there, but I didn’t bother. The walk back is much easier as it is all downhill.

When I was there, there seemed to be a much higher percentage of Japanese tourists than I saw in Kyoto or Nara. I don’t think Nikko is as sexy of an attraction as either of those and tends to get more pilgrims and worshipers.

I was there in late November so it was getting chilly and the sun set early. The temples closed around five-ish on a Sunday.

I arrived at the complex a little after noon and I don’t think I was able to see everything (but it was also busy).

If you are in Tokyo and have a spare day, take a trip out to Nikko. It is probably the best option to experience traditional Japanese culture and religion available in the area.

Backing Up

The most valuable thing I carry around with me isn’t my computer or my cameras. It is my photos. I can replace any of the equipment I have, but I can’t replace the photos I’ve taken.

That raises a pretty big problem for me. How can I make sure that I don’t lose the photos I’ve taken?

What you see on Flickr really isn’t a backup. I shoot everything in RAW which is sort of the equivalent of a digital negative. What you see on Flickr is a compressed jpeg file which may or may not have been touched up with PhotoShop (I will sometimes do small adjustments to shadows). I want to keep all the original RAW files so I can go back at a later date and process my photos. What is on Flickr is maybe 20% of the photos I’ve taken.

I’ve adopted as a philosophy what I heard Alex Lindsay say about the Pixel Corps this week on TWIP: it doesn’t exist unless it exists in at least two places.

I spent all day yesterday trying shore up my photos by backing things up and getting them ready to send back to the US. It has been far more daunting than I had expbought

I have a 160gb external HD I use to store most of my photos. I originally brought an old, semi-broken 40gb iPod with me for photo storage, but I quickly outgrew that (the iPod works, but only when plugged in. The battery is shot. It is basically just a hard drive at this point).

As I was burning DVDs yesterday (a process which takes forever) I realized that this is not something which will work for me in the long run. Each DVD is about 4.3gb. That is about the size of the memory card in my camera. I have a big stack of DVDs burned already, and I still have all of Japan and the Philippines to back up with will probably be another 10 DVDs. Carrying around a stack of 50 blank DVDs is heavy.

I have also had zero luck with online storage. has proven to be worse than useless. Since December, I’ve only managed to upload 200mb of files. Their uploading process takes up all the available space on my HD, and when the drive is full the upload will just quit. All the files which were “uploaded” then appear as files with a size of 0k later on. Worse, it tells me the files were uploaded. Not uploading would be better than wasting time on an upload only to be given false information regarding the success of the upload.

Sadly, I’m coming to the conclusion that the solution might lie in purchasing “cheap” external hard drives. Factoring in the cost of shipping, it might be the simplest and most reasonable solution. As it stands, I think I’m going to have to ship my 160gb drive back to the US. I need extra storage space and I need it now. My 160gb drive has lasted almost 6 months, which isn’t too bad. They keep getting cheaper and bigger while my photo creation is pretty steady.

While I will get another external HD, it doesn’t really serve as a backup. If the HD breaks or is lost, I’m still screwed.

I’m trying to balance cost, weight, and reliability. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Last Thoughts on Bali

My last words on Bali were rather negative. I was complaining about the street hawkers pushing things in your face and harassing you ever 15 seconds while you walk down the street. I stand by what I said, however, that isn’t the whole story when it comes to Bali, and I don’t want my last words on Bali to be those.

It is easy to understand why people find Bali appealing. The weather is nice, the people are nice (save for the street vendors) and the Balinese culture is evident everywhere.

To give a bit of background: Bali, unlike the rest of Indonesia is Hindu. Balinese Hinduism is different in practice and custom from Indian Hinduism, but much of the underlying theology is pretty much the same. Prior to the introduction of Islam to Indonesia, many of the islands were Hindu. (see my upcoming post on Prambanan). As Islam spread, many of the practitioners of Hinduism retreated to Bali, where they remain the dominate religion today. (there is still a Hindu minority in Java, but it is a very small percentage of the population).

I don’t think I’ve every seen a place where the religion and culture is so ubiquitous. You literally walk down the street and have to step around the offering plates which are left in front of every home and business. The offering plates are called canang sari. It usually consists of a woven plate of palm fronds, and it will usually have some salt, coconut, a coin, flowers, and I’ve even seen things like crackers.

You won’t just see them at the doorways of buildings. I saw them on the dashboards of cars, attached to the handlebars of motorcycles, on the beach, and on various small shrines, you’d see everywhere.

The shrines seemed to designed in a sort of hierarchical mathematical structure. There are family shrines, there are sub-village shrines, village shrines, and then there is the Mother Temple on the island. Think of a tree diagram with more branches on each level of the tree. Likewise, there are cycles of ceremonies performed at the Mother Temple every year, ten years, hundred years, and thousand years.

While I was there, every village I passed through had very large bamboo poles which would hang over the road holding offerings. I was told that the bamboo poles are usually only out for holidays, one of which was recently completed. I have no idea what the holiday was or was about.

I also saw some kids who were doing a type of Barong dance. They would go door to door to various businesses to try and raise money in exchange for performing a dance. I gave the kids a few thousand rupiah.

So for tourists looking for a “cultural experience,” you can’t really avoid the culture in Bali, even if you hole up at the Hard Rock Hotel on Kuta Beach. Moreover, the culture is very unique, even by the standards of Indonesia. There is really nothing else like Balinese Hinduism. Nothing which I’ve seen so far at least.

One of the most enjoyable things I did in Bali was to visit the monkey temple in Ubud. The monkeys have been there for centuries and are very accustomed to humans. In fact, you can buy bundles of bananas at the entrance for about $2 to feed the monkeys. The monkeys are smart and know if you have bananas and are not afraid to come and get them. I had monkeys crawl up on my head, dig in my pockets and one even held on to my pant leg as I walked around like he was a child. I could have spent all day there feeding bananas to monkeys. Monkeys are good people.

The other thing I did which was really unique was visiting the Mother Temple. My guide, who was a really interesting guy who worked as a journalist covering Indonesia for Australian papers, took me and had my dress in a traditional sarong and with a white headband. The Mother Temple is like Balinese equivalent of the St. Peters Basilica, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The day I was there it was overcast and raining, but there were still ceremonies going on. You can’t enter the main compound of the Mother Temple unless you are Hindu, but you can peek over the wall and see inside.

The other big cultural thing I did was attend a Barong dance. The Barong dance is normally only performed a few times a year, but it is now performed daily for tourists in some places. The daily photo I posted in March of a man stabbing himself is part of the Barong dance. Part of the story involves a god telling soldiers to kill themselves, but their skin becomes so hard they can’t stab themselves.

All is not peaches and cream in Bali. While tourism gives the average Balinese a standard of living higher than the rest of Indonesia, the bombings several years ago have really reduced the number of tourists which come here. As with most places I go, I met very few Americans. Many people would raise their eyebrows when I said I was an American, as that was the group which probably dropped off the most after the bombings. Most of the visitors in Bali are from Japan, Korea, Germany and Australia.

While I was on a day trip of the island, my guide was pulled over by police. It was basically a shakedown operation where the police pull you over and you give them money or cigarettes to avoid going to jail. He ended up paying about US$4. He sort of shrugged it off as something which happens all the time. (I gave him the amount of the bribe at the end of the day. I thought it sucked he had to pay it and wouldn’t have had to if he wasn’t hauling me around.)

All the police on Bali are Javanese, so there is tension between the police and the people. I didn’t get the impression that anyone trusted or liked the cops. Many Balinese villages have their own sort of police force. They don’t carry weapons nor do they have the power of the government behind them, but they do enforce village customs and norms. If you see guys with a badge on their shirt and ceremonial kris knives, those are probably the village cops.

There is no outward sign of rebellion or a separatist movement in Bali, but there are low key ones in other parts of Indonesia. I couldn’t help but think of the comparisons to Yugoslavia or the USSR when I left Indonesia. It is a large, diverse country dominated by a single ethnic group, the Javanese. While things are fine now, I could easily see a future event where the police accidentally kill someone that sparks riots. Toss in separatist movements in Ache, Papua, Moluka and Sulawesi and you could see things go from peaceful to chaotic in a hurry. The only reason Indonesia exists is because is the land which was grabbed by the Dutch.

Then again, that might never happen….

I can totally understand why so many people love Bali and why it has become an attraction for so many people. There is nothing quite like Bali. I don’t think the beaches or the climate or the land is all that special, but the people and the culture are.

All Seriousness Aside…

There are no things in life more serious than the internet and traveling. Put them together and you get something more serious than a heart attack in the middle of a church service.

So I’m back in Sydney now where I can once again wear sandals and short and not worry about freezing.

My goal here for the next few days is to:

1) reduce the weight of my bags by a few more kg. My check in weight going to Tasmania was 14.6kg which is about 3kg less than what I have been carrying in my big bag (that includes my tripod). I still have some crap I can get rid of including a spoon I purchased in Japan I hardly ever use, DVDs of photos I should send home, a cheap set of headphones I hardly use for Skype, and an old iPod I use for backing up photos. I need to try and get my bag under 14kg if I want to take everything to Lord Howe

2) Get my onward plans taken care of. Ideally I want to fly to Lord Howe and then fly back to Brisbane. I’m going there anyhow, so if I can get my return flight there, it will make things easy and save some money.

3) Get the first episode of the podcast up. Yes, I haven’t forgotten about it.

My Tasmania expedition was less than I had hoped it would be. I know there is only so much you can do in three days, but having one of my day trips canceled really put a dent in things. I did end up going to the top of Mount Wellington and Mount Field, petting a Koala, seeing a Tasmanian Devil, and got snowed on.

BTW, I have been waiting since June to do the post from earlier today :)

This Is My Last Blog Post Ever

Another Person
Revels In Love For Others
Only Loves Self..

– Plutaricart, 176 B.C.

This website originally began as a joke. I never intended it would get this popular and would gain the following it has. As the months have passed I have had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is time to let everyone know the truth:

I’ve been living a lie. I haven’t been traveling around the world. In fact over the last 9 months, I haven’t even left my house.

Me, the real Roy Dewitt
Me, the real Roy Dewitt
My real name is Roy Dewitt. I’m 47 years old and live off disability in Macon, Georgia. I’ve never even left the United States.

I originally started this site as a way to pretend what it would be like to travel. Traveling around the world was always my life’s dream. I was involved in a construction accident 16 years ago and since then I ballooned to 400 pounds. With the injury and weight gain, I am unable to leave the house now.

Travel is something I’ve always wanted to do. I took some photos from different people on Flickr and started to write as If I was traveling.

Eventually more people started reading the website so I found the website of a some guy from Eastern Europe who was traveling and I just followed where he was going and wrote about the adventures I thought he would be having. Gary is just a fictitious character who embodies all which men want to be, and all women want to be with.

One thing lead to another and the next thing you know, I have thousands of people reading this site every month.

I eventually told my pastor about what I was doing and he said I should come clean before someone gets hurt. I was getting too many emails from women who were attracted to the adventurous, macho, modern day Indiana Jones character which I had created in Gary. I was wrong of me to put such a strong, intelligent and attractive persona on the internet.

Now that I’ve come clean, I hope that everyone can forgive me.

Good Bye, Roy